Rory McIlroy pulled his cap down over his eyes at the finish in a gesture that has become a familiar sign of frustration and anger. His caddie JP Fitzgerald sheathed the putter and thought better about saying anything.

The 18th at the Earth courseEnough has been written about McIlroy’s putting this season but back-to-back three-putts for bogey by the Race to Dubai leader at the 14th and 15th - two of the easiest holes on the course - hurt him.

They also killed the momentum he had built up by storming to the turn in 31 and took the pressure off his main pursuer, Lee Westwood, in a money list battle that is unfolding in spectacular fashion in the desert.

When the dust had settled at the end of the day, Westwood and McIlroy both shot 69. As a result, Westwood retained his two stroke lead over the 20 year old Holywood player with two rounds to go.

By rights, Padraig Harrington should be leading the way but he took seven at the par five 18th for a 69 that left him tied with McIlroy, Robert Allenby, Ross McGowan, Louis Oosthuizen and Camilo Villegas on seven under.

Considering the pressure that McIlroy and Westwood are experiencing this week, Harrington is impressed by what he has seen from the two main players this week.

“When you’re under the radar, like me this week, it’s so much easier to play well,” Harrington said.

Compared to Westwood, yellow jersey holder McIlroy is vastly inexperienced at this level and finds it difficult not to get caught up in trying to cover every break. This week, Harrington is his domestique and could help him win the Race to Dubai title by denying Westwood victory in the Dubai World Championship.

“It's strange but every day here feels like Sunday,” McIlroy said. In contrast, Westwood says he is under orders from his caddie Billy Foster not to look at a leaderboard.

"I've always been a leaderboard watcher but this week Bill has banned me from doing it," said the 36-year-old. "I've never done it before and it will be hard, but I will only look at it on Sunday night. 

“Billy's right. I must concentrate solely on what I'm doing. Listen, I know that if I play as good as I can, make a few putts and get it up and down, I'll win the tournament. Because I know I'm good enough."

Missing two three-footers in a row will weigh on McIlroy’s mind but he is playing extremely well and has the game to match Westwood birdie for birdie until they take on the green mile - the last four holes on the Earth course - on Sunday afternoon.

“I’ve got to think about what a great position I’m still in rather than worrying about lost opportunities," McIlroy said.

“It’s up to me to keep playing well and go out and win it. I know no-one is going to hand it to me.”

Harrington said he didn't know he was leading until he visited water off the tee and again with his fourth shot en route to a double-bogey seven on the 18th.

Just as he did when he made six on the 18th at Carnoustie in the second round of the 2007 Open, he shrugged it off.

“Assuming that I'm going to play kind of like I played the first few days, it probably makes no difference. It's probably going to come down to the guy who plays the last couple of holes well on Sunday afternoon."

The Dubliner believes it will all be decided on the 72nd hole. Round three will be about jostling for position and a significant move by Westwood or McIlroy could be crucial.

"I think they have got it right here this week," Harrington added. "The golf course gives us some opportunities. You have some very testing holes; it's a testing finish. So you are going to see guys being able to shoot low scores, and then guys who are leading the tournament not find that as easy. I think you'll see that.

"You've seen the bunching at the moment, but it may spread out a little bit. As I said, one of the leaders is going to shoot a good one; let's hope it's me."